Answered by Ustadh Abdullah Anik Misra
Question: [Regarding] the first census carried out in Madina: Why did the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) carry it out and, how often thereafter did he do it and what were the sort of things that he was looking at? I’d appreciate any insight.
Answer: In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate,
As salamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
Thank you for your question. The first census was ordered by the Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) to assess the numbers of the Muslims for defensive purposes. In a hadith found in both Bukhari and Muslim with differing wording, the Companion Hudhayfa (Allah be pleased with him) said:
“We were with the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) when he said, ‘Count for me how many people profess Islam.’ So we asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah, are you afraid for us, while we are between 600 to 700 strong in number?!’ He replied, ‘You never know, perhaps you may be faced with tribulations.’ And [Hudhayfa, years later] observed, “And we did indeed face tribulations… to the point where a man of us wouldn’t even pray except secretly [due to fear].” [Muslim]
Other hadiths report a higher population (1500), which shows that either the census was taken multiple times as the community grew, or that the higher figures reported all Muslims (men, women and children), and the lower number tallied men specifically. [Usmani, Fath al-Mulhim]
The reason for this census was to record the number of able-bodied men for the Muslim defenses at critical battles such as Uhud and the Trench. This proves that the taking of a census and the analysis of demographics is a Sunnah, and upheld by the Sacred Law when there is a need for it. [Qastalani, Irshad al-Sari]
The deeper lesson in the hadith is that one should never be dazzled by their large numbers nor feel overconfident, since success and safety is from Allah Most High, and trials can come as a punishment for self-admiration. The taking of a census itself does not lift blessings, because it is for a religiously-sanctioned communal benefit. [al-Asqalani, Fath al Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari]
Census in the times of Omar and Muawiyah (may Allah be pleased with them)
The first census in Madina was localized, limited in scope, and an informal head-count to gauge defensive strength. The first person to implement a fully-recorded, regular census in Islam was the 2nd caliph and companion, Omar ibn al –Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him).
When great amounts of wealth entered the Muslim treasury and the population grew, the question of how to distribute the wealth effectively and fairly throughout society came up. The registries (diwan’s) were established according to tribes and families in order to manage and track the distribution of these benefits. [a-Tabari, Tarikh al-Umam wa al-Muluk]
During Mu’awiya’s caliphate, even the names of the newborn children and who had moved into and out of each neighborhood in Egypt were being recorded on a daily basis, in order to channel government benefits equitably. This was in addition to keeping a census for the human resource aspect of military defense, or communal responsibilities. [al-Kattani, Taratib al-Idariyya]
The census is important in our times, therefore, to gauge the needs of the community to better serve its various demographic sectors, and to assess its talents, resources, strengths and weaknesses. May Allah Ta’ala make our communities strong, and reliant on Him alone.
Abdullah Anik Misra
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani